Being Sophia Burset: Communicating Trans Identity in Orange is the New Black

Angela Zottola 1 *
More Detail
1 University of Turin, ITALY
* Corresponding Author
Online Journal of Communication and Media Technologies, Volume 12, Issue 1, Article No: e202206.
OPEN ACCESS   1547 Views   2072 Downloads   Published online: 03 Jan 2022
Download Full Text (PDF)


This article discusses the creation of a discursive space for trans identity in the TV series Orange is the New Black. It explores the ways in which the character of Sophia Burset is defined discursively and through the linguistic choices made by the scriptwriter in designing the script. The analysis compares the original English dialogue and its dubbed Italian adaptation. It highlights two major patterns which reveal how cisgender characters in the series talk about trans identity and how self-representation is achieved. The study offers a close discourse analysis of selected scenes from the seven Seasons the series is comprised of, drawing from the framework of Sociocultural Linguistics and from studies in the field of Audiovisual Translation, offering itself as a further brick in the construction of a trans linguistics.


Zottola, A. (2022). Being Sophia Burset: Communicating Trans Identity in Orange is the New Black. Online Journal of Communication and Media Technologies, 12(1), e202206.


  • Audissino, E. (2012). Italian “doppiaggio” dubbing in Italy: Some notes and (in)famous examples, Italian Americana, 30(1), 22-32.
  • Baker, P. (2014). Bad wigs and screaming mimis: Using corpus-assisted techniques to carry out critical discourse analysis of the representation of trans people in the British press. In C. Hart & P. Cap (Eds.), Contemporary critical discourse studies (pp. 211-235). Bloomsbury.
  • Baldo, M., Evans, J., & Guo T. (2021). Introduction: Translation and LGBT+/queer activism. Translation and Interpreting Studies, 16(2), 185-195.
  • Balirano, G. (2014). Masculinity and representation: A multimodal critical approach to male identity constructions. Paolo Loffredo Iniziative Editoriali.
  • Bednarek, M. (2018). Language and television series. A linguistic approach to TV dialogue. Cambridge University Press.
  • Billard, T. (2016). Writing in the margins: Mainstream news media representations of transgenderism. International Journal of Communication, 10, 4193-4218.
  • Bleichenbacher, L. (2008). Multilingualism in the movies: Hollywood characters and their language choices. Edinburgh University Press.
  • Blommaert, J. (1999). Language ideological debates. Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Borba, R., & Ostermann, A. C. (2018). Do bodies matter? Travestis’ embodiment of (trans)gender identity through the manipulation of the Brazilian Portuguese grammatical gender system. In T. Milani (Ed.), Queering language, gender and sexuality (pp. 89-102). Equinox.
  • Bruti, S. (2009). Translating compliments and insults in the Pavia corpus of filmic speech: Two sides of the same coin? In M. Freddi & M. Pavesi (Eds.), Analysing audiovisual dialogue. Linguistic and translational insights (pp. 143-163). CLUEB.
  • Bucaria, C. (2009). Translation and censorship on Italian TV: An inevitable love affair? VIAL, 6, 13-32.
  • Bucholtz, M., & Hall, K. (2005). Identity and interaction: A sociocultural linguistic approach. Discourse Studies, 7(4-5), 585-614.
  • Butler, J. (1988). Performative acts and gender constitution: An essay in phenomenology and feminist theory. Theatre Journal, 40(4), 519-531.
  • Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. Routledge.
  • Caputi, J. (2016). The colour orange? Social justice issues in the first season of Orange Is the New Black. Journal of Popular Culture, 48(6), 1130-1150.
  • Capuzza, J. (2015). What’s in a name? Transgender identity, metareporting, and the misgendering of Chelsea Manning. In L. Spencer & J. Capuzza (Eds.), Transgender communication studies: Histories, trends, and trajectories (pp. 93-11). Lexington Books.
  • Capuzza, J., & Spencer, L. (2016). Regressing, progressing, or transgressing on the small screen? Transgender characters on U.S. scripted television series. Communication Quarterly, 65(2), 214-230.
  • Chaume, F. (2007). Dubbing practices in Europe: Localisation beats globalisation. Linguistica Antverpiensia, 6, 203-217.
  • Chaume, F. (2012). Audiovisual translation: Dubbing. St. Jerome.
  • Coupland, N. (2010). “Other” representation. In J. Jürgen, J. Östman, & J. Verschueren (Eds.), Society and language use. Handbook of pragmatics highlights (pp. 241-260). John Benjamins.
  • Di Martino, E. (2019). In support of trans linguistics as the basis for a ‘sociolinguistics of variation for people and for society’. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 256, 9-19.
  • Díaz Cintas, J., & Anderman, G. (2009). Audiovisual translation. Language transfer on screen. Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Dore, M., & Zarrelli, I. (2018). Transfeminine identity and HIV/AIDS in audiovisual translation Dallas Buyers Club and its Italian subtitled versions. In J. Williams Camus, C. Gómez Castro, A. Assis Rosa, & C. Camus Camus (Eds.), Translation and gender: Discourse strategies to shape gender (pp. 59-78). Gender Cantabria University Press.
  • Fejes, F., & Petrich, K. (2009). Invisibility, homophobia and heterosexism: Lesbians, gays and the media. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 10(4), 395-422.
  • Fois, E. (2012). Traduzione audiovisiva: Teoria e pratica dell’adattamento [Audiovisual translation: Theory and practice of adaptation]. Between, 2(4), 1-17.
  • Gambier, Y. (2006). Multimodality and audiovisual translation. In M. Carroll, H. Gerzymisch-Arbogast, & S. Nauert (Eds.), MuTra 2006 audiovisual translation scenarios: Conference proceedings, Eu-High-Level Scientific Conference Series.
  • Gamson, J. (2001). Talking freaks: Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered families on day-time talk TV. In M. Bernstein & R. Reimann (Eds.), Queer families, queer politics: Challenging culture and the state (pp. 68-86). Columbia University Press.
  • Gottlieb, H. (1992). Subtitling: A new university discipline. In C. Dollerup & A. Loddegaard (Eds.), Teaching translation and interpreting (pp. 161-170). John Benjamins.
  • Gramling, D., & Aniruddha, D. (2016). Introduction. Transgender Studies Quarterly, 3(3-4), 333-356.
  • Grant, T. (2004). International directory of company histories. St. James Press.
  • Gupta, K. (2019). Response and responsibility: Mainstream media and Lucy Meadows in a post-Leveson context. Sexualities, 22(1-2), 31-47.
  • Heim, J. (2017). Not my queer: Queer representation in contemporary Italian serial television [PhD Dissertation, CUNY].
  • Hladky, K. N. (2013). The construction of queer and the conferring of voice: Empowering and disempowering portrayals of transgenderism in TransGeneration. In J. Campbell & T. Carilli (Eds.), Queer media images: LGBT perspectives (pp. 101-110). Lexington Books.
  • Johnson, S. (2001). Who’s misunderstanding whom? Sociolinguistics, public debate and the media. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 5(4), 591-610.
  • Johnson, S., & Milani, T. (2010). Language ideologies and media discourse: Texts, practices, politics. Continuum.
  • Kerman, P. (2010). Orange Is the new black: My year in a women’s prison. Abacus.
  • Leung, H. (2016). Always in translation. Trans cinema across languages. Transgender Studies Quarterly, 3(3-4), 433-447.
  • Minutella, V. (2007). Translating for dubbing from English into Italian. Celid.
  • Monello, V. (2020). Creating “Moppa”: identity construction and expressive meaning. In B. Lewandoska-Tomaszczyk, V. Monello, & M. Venuti (Eds.), Language, heart, and mind. Studies at intersection of emotion and cognition (pp. 427-448). Peter Lang.
  • Nölke, A. (2017). Making diversity conform? An intersectional, longitudinal analysis of LGBT-specific mainstream media advertisements. Journal of Homosexuality, 65(2), 224-255.
  • Paolinelli, M., & Di Fortunato, E. (2005). Tradurre per il doppiaggio: La trasposizione linguistica dell’audiovisivo: Teoria e pratica di un’arte imperfetta [Translating for dubbing: The linguistic transposition of audiovisual: Theory and practice of an imperfect art]. Hoepli.
  • Pavesi, M. (2005). La traduzione filmica: Aspetti del parlato doppiato dall’Inglese all’Italiano [Film translation: Aspects of voiced speech from English to Italian]. Carocci.
  • Poole, R. (2017). Towards a queer futurity: New trans television. European Journal of American Studies, 12(2), 1-24.
  • Ranzato, I. (2015). ‘God forbid, a man!’: Homosexuality in a case of quality TV. Between, 5(9), 1-23.
  • Robinson, D. (2019). Transgender, translation, translingual address. Bloomsbury.
  • Rose, E. (2020). Translating transg identity: (Re)writing undecidable texts and bodies. Routledge.
  • Sandrelli, A. (2016). The dubbing of gay-themed TV series in Italy: Corpus-based evidence of manipulation and censorship. Altre Modernità, 2, 124-143.
  • Turkle, S. (1995). Life on the screen: Identity in the age of the Internet. Weidenfeld & Nicholson.
  • Zanotti, S. (2012). Censorship or profit? The manipulation of dubbed youth films. Meta57, 2, 351-368.
  • Zimman, L. (2020). Transgender language, transgender moment: Toward a trans linguistics. In R. Barrett & K. Hall (Eds.), The Oxford handbook in language and sexuality. Oxford University Press.
  • Zimman, L., & Hall, K. (2010). Language, embodiment, and the ‘Third Sex’. In C. Llams & D. Watt (Eds.), Language and identities (pp. 166-178). Edinburgh University Press.
  • Zottola, A. (2018). Transgender identity labels in the British press (2013-2015). A corpus-based discourse analysis. Journal of Language and Sexuality, 7(2), 237-262.
  • Zottola, A. (2021). Transgender identities in the press: A corpus-based discourse analysis. Bloomsbury.